Weekly Home Help with items on keeping your house warm and insulated, what to do with your old CDs, a home-selling tip and more.

This year's winter weather has been unpredictable, but homeowners can take a few simple steps now to ensure chilly temperatures and monthly heating bills don't take a bite out of their wallet.


Seeing your home through the lens of an infrared camera is one simple way to evaluate heat loss –– an infrared lens is able to capture thermal energy emitted from weaknesses in the home's "thermal envelope," the barrier created between the exterior of a home and outdoor temperatures.


"What you're seeing in an infrared photo of a home is not unlike what you might see from the human body –– the most substantial loss of heat is from the top," says John Smith, who works for Johns Manville, a building products manufacturer. "Similar to a winter hat, the proper level of attic insulation combined with air sealing helps trap heat inside, increasing comfort and efficiency and decreasing money wasted on energy bills."


Homeowners can contact a local energy auditor to have a thermal image taken of their home. Evaluating home efficiency can also be as easy as taking a trip to the attic and measuring the depth of attic insulation –– the average home needs up to 19 inches of fiber glass attic insulation for maximum energy efficiency.


For every dollar saved in annual utility costs, homeowners can expect to add $20 to their home's market value, according to the Appraisal Institute. Homeowners can reduce their homes' heating and cooling costs by as much as 20 percent through proper air sealing and insulation techniques, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


-- ARA


Decorating Tip: Energize with patterns, color


Boston-area designer Ana Donohue says energize your space with patterns. Donohue is a fan of bringing in multiple patterns and rich colors with textiles. She suggests trying larger-scaled patterns, rather than smaller-scaled patterns, to make a strong impact in a room. "A rich pattern or texture can give a room a hit of energy."


-- Scripps Howard News Service


Home-Selling Tip: Stay neutral


Since you can’t market your house towards a specific demographic, keep things neutral to appeal to everyone. Paint everything in a neutral color, buy neutral-colored linens and spray air neutralizer often. Also, keep your feelings neutral –– when your house is for sale, you need to let go emotionally.


-- FrontDoor.com


New Product: Scratch-proof iPhone case


Nissan announced consumer testing with prototypes of the Scratch Shield, an iPhone case that may be manufactured by the Japanese car maker later this year. The cellphone cases feature Nissan’s exterior auto paints, which are designed to “change back to its original shape” should scratches occur.


-- Consumer Reports’ Electronics Blog  


Going Green: Things to do with old CDs, DVDs


Now that you've switched to digital, what should you do with your outdated CDs and DVDs? Here's a couple ideas: Break the CDs down to mosaic-size pieces, and use them to decorate flower pots, picture frames or mirror frames. Then, frame 10 or 20 of your favorite CD cases with art included, and display the picture on a wall.


--  Earth911.com


Did You Know …


Existing-home sales rose 5 percent in December from November and are 3.6 percent higher than 2010 numbers. -- Realtor.org


Garden Guide: Plant a natural pest control


If you're beginning to plan your garden, consider selecting some plants that will nurture natural pest control, recommended Nancy Pollard, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.


Pollard recommends planting dill, fennel and coriander. The leaf stage of coriander, before it flowers, is known as cilantro. A longer bloom period will entice beneficial insects to stay around for nectar. Plant a block or short row of these herbs every couple of weeks. Both your flowering period and herb harvest period will be extended.


GateHouse News Service